New Zealand are on the verge of their first Test victory since January 2012 after setting Sri Lanka an improbable chase of 363 for the final day.
India, the West Indies and South Africa have all overpowered New Zealand since their early year victory in a one off Test against Zimbabwe. And a win against a well-respected and experienced Sri Lankan team on home soil is likely to do the developing side no end of good.
On day four, the Kiwis continued their impressive form in the second Test reducing Sri Lanka to 47-4 at the P. Sara Oval.
Sri Lanka, trailing by 316 runs, look set to lose a home Test to New Zealand for the first time since 1998 and concede a 1-1 drawn series.
New Zealand declared their second innings on 194-9 shortly after tea and made inroads towards their first Test triumph in nine attempts. The Kiwis have lost their last five Tests, their worst run since 1955.
On a day when 17 wickets fell, New Zealand’s seamers bowled them into a strong position doing maximum damage with the new ball.
After giving Sri Lanka little over an hour to survive the fourth day, Tim Southee trapped opener Tharanga Paranavithana leg before wicket with the first ball of the innings, and induced an edge behind by Tillakaratne Dilshan when he attempted to drive one without much feet movement on 14.
But the best strikes of the day came from first-change bowler Doug Bracewell when he claimed the big wickets of Kumar Sangakkara and captain Mahela Jayawardene. Sangakkara was bowled down the leg side for 16, and Jayawardene edged one to wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk on 5.
Realistically, Sri Lanka’s focus will be on seeing off the last three sessions to hold onto their 1-0 lead in the series. The highest successful run chase in Sri Lanka was when the hosts chased 352 against South Africa in 2006 at the same venue.
At the crease, both on 1, were Angelo Mathews and Thilan Samaraweera, who also rescued Sri Lanka in the first innings.
The New Zealand seamers humbled the Sri Lanka batsmen in the morning as well. Sri Lanka was 225-6 in their first innings when play resumed and lost the remaining four wickets for just 19 runs.
Samaraweera was dismissed without any addition to his overnight score of 76 when a Trent Boult delivery squared him up and the outside edge flew to second slip where Martin Guptill took the catch.
Boult also dismissed Suraj Randiv, the other overnight batsman, after he completed a career-best 39. Boult finished with figures of 4-42 as three of the four wickets that fell in the morning went to him. Southee picked up the remaining wicket to finish with figures of 5-62, his third five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
In their second innings, in pursuit of quick runs, New Zealand were cut down to 75-5, including three wickets in the space of four deliveries. But a sixth-wicket stand of 97 between captain Ross Taylor and debutant Todd Astle took the lead beyond 350.
Taylor, who made a century in the first innings, top scored with 74 before being run out.
Rangana Herath’s figures of 3-67 helped him to finish the game with nine wickets and 20 in the series. He is the highest wicket-taker in the calendar year in Test cricket.
However, if New Zealand can win on Thursday, there will be only one team smiling.